The entire vacation was aimed at soaking up on the local cuisine, culture, people and sights. We had taken in the sights, indulged in the cuisine and when Sam suggested we walk through a traditional Javanese market that morning to interact with the locals, we were ready. As expected the market was crowded and noisy. It seemed like every other shop in the market was selling bamboo ware, fried food or tempeh . Sam had warned us earlier that if we were avoiding fried food, then we were probably in the wrong country. Clever Sam helped with vocabulary that could light up the faces of the locals when used. Mongo. That single word had the power to instantaneously light up many faces of the traders and shop keepers who tried selling the local fare to us. Use Mongo and they did not mind being photographed, refused, smiled at or ignored. Mongo meant Hello, Goodbye, Thank you, No thanks, Sorry, Please and anything else you wanted it to mean. With just that one word, it is possible to break ice and build rapport with the entire local community. It brought to my mind another word that I heard being over used when I was travelling in Italy- Prego, similar to Mongo, means several things- What can I do for you, Thank you, Of course, Welcome, Pardon and such.
We tried some fritters made from Jack fruit and Tapioca. We watched some of the women shop keepers cut kilos of red chilly padi that they obviously sold for making the sambal to the locals.
Our next stop was right next doors- a local Chinese temple. Since moving to Singapore, we have been to a few of these temples and they all look identical. A few idols of Chinese Gods, incense sticks, red candles, red lanterns and walls with inscriptions and paintings from another era and we had taken the details all in.
Our third stop of the day was at a local Batik market. Even though Sam wasn’t too enthused about walking us through the market (as we later found out why), we insisted that we walk through the market. Batik is practiced like art in the whole country, Solo has an annual batik carnival and Batik is an integral part of Javanese culture.
Those were reasons enough for us to want to walk through the market. As it turned out it was a claustrophobic 30 minute maze of batik retailers in narrow lanes. One of us would have lost consciousness had we stayed on even for another minute. We were relieved when the tour was done.
The only thing I recall from that half hour is a few locals that called out ‘Shah Rukh Khan , Amitabh Bachchan and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ when we passed by- to let us know they recognized us from India. And to think that these names were known in the narrow batik lanes of Solo!
Our next stop was the palace of the Paku Buwono- 13, whose ancestors were the rulers of Surakarta. History has it that, the ancestors of the current Paku Buwono were powerful Islamic kings who were close to the Dutch rulers. The 13th Paku Bowono is in residence and traditionally respected as a royal, even though he is a regular man who runs a batik business locally. The palace was badly kept and was being set up for some commercial batik exhibition in January.
We were quite disappointed with the state of the palace but Sam made sure our disenchantment did not last too long.
Our next stop at Solo was at the palace of King Mangkunegara. The current King of Solo, Mangkunegara-IX has only ceremonial powers and lives in the palace with his family. He is also a business man and deals in Batik and Teakwood. He seemed to own a flourishing business, from the way the palace was maintained. We looked at the artefacts that were on display and our guide, Mariyati (March born and thus the name she said) was very well informed and chatty. She toured the palace grounds with us and filled us in about a lot of details of the Mangkunegara dynasty. What I found a little disappointing was that at the end of the palace tour, Mariyati tried selling us some herbs and concoctions that were brewed using the recipes of the Queen Tustiputri, the wife of Mangkunegara VIII. Commercial activity using the name of a royal dead soul sounded unfair and full of hocus-pocus.
We were exhausted by the time we stopped for lunch at a Javanese speciality restaurant. The food we ordered again was tweaked to accommodate our only vegetarian options. It was funny how they brought a portion of vegetarian Mee for Akanksha with an order of chicken sate and shrimp fritters on the house! What I will also remember for a long time was the Keronchong music– a Javanese style music ensemble influenced by the Portuguese that Sam seemed to be absolutely comfortable singing along to.
It was nearing late afternoon and both Akank and mother in law were out of steam and wanted no more sights to see. Ramesh and I walked to the Triwindu antique market which was basically a flea market that had everything from antique idols in different materials, to paintings, to jewellery, door knobs, house decor, lamps, Chinese porcelain from Ching Dynasty, Topeng masks, wooden puppets and more. After a quick tour of the place, we began our two hour drive towards Jogjakarta.
We drove nonstop and reached Jogjakarta a little before 6pm and checked into The Phoenix hotel. Akank had the time of her vacation at Jogja. She used the pool, got to play the grand piano at the restaurant where we had dinner and got to eat pizza. She was a happy teenager.